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A Society Project: GPS Locating Cemeteries - Making Cemeteries Easy To Find - FGS Wiki

A Society Project: GPS Locating Cemeteries - Making Cemeteries Easy To Find


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[[Category:Strategies for Societies]][[Category:Kniebes, Duane V.]][[Category:Projects]]
+
 
 +
== INTRODUCTION ==
 +
 
 +
It’s a thrilling moment when a genealogist
 +
discovers an ancestor’s grave.
 +
Genealogical societies have been instrumental in
 +
the dissemination of cemetery information.
 +
Society volunteers have compiled innumerable
 +
gravestone inscriptions, tracked the locations of
 +
gravesites and documented their inscriptions, and
 +
published cemetery locations and gravesites
 +
within the societies’ geographic areas. Without
 +
the widespread publication of cemetery
 +
information underwritten by society funds,
 +
provided by the work of society volunteers, and
 +
propelled by the enthusiasm of project leaders,
 +
the opportunity to visit our ancestors’ final resting
 +
places would be a more complicated endeavor.
 +
Computers and high-tech tools make our searches
 +
easier. On the Internet, there are numerous
 +
websites that list cemeteries, along with their
 +
locations, driving directions, and other pertinent
 +
information. Using GPS technology, a society can
 +
publish cemetery locations in even more precise
 +
terms.
 +
 
 +
 
 +
== WHAT IS GPS? ==
 +
 +
GPS stands for Global Positioning System. GPS
 +
receivers, which calculate geographic locations by
 +
triangulating timed signals from earth-orbiting
 +
satellites, are commonly available, easy to use,
 +
and relatively inexpensive. They display the
 +
longitude and latitude coordinates of a geographic
 +
location. These coordinates are a common feature
 +
of many maps, including the U.S. Geological
 +
Survey’s topographic maps, and are easy to
 +
interpret.
 +
 
 +
Handheld GPS instruments allow volunteers to
 +
pinpoint a location within a hundred feet. With
 +
this latitude/longitude information, anyone can
 +
plot a location on a map that displays such data,
 +
or, by using the “Go To” command on a GPS
 +
instrument, be directed to the spot. This takes the
 +
frustration out of finding an old cemetery and lets
 +
the genealogist do what he or she really came to
 +
do.
 +
 
 +
 
 +
== THE PROJECT ==
 +
 
 +
The problem remains of first finding isolated
 +
cemeteries or remote burials for which we want to
 +
determine GPS readings. Dedicated volunteers who are willing to travel and search for
 +
cemeteries the hard way are the key to success of
 +
such grave-locating projects. The best candidates
 +
are people who are sincerely interested in the
 +
goals in the project and who understand that
 +
accomplishing those goals may require a
 +
considerable amount of time. Genealogical and
 +
historical societies are frequently the best places
 +
to find such volunteers.
 +
 
 +
To spearhead the project, select a project
 +
coordinator and then create a steering committee.
 +
The first task for the committee is to set the
 +
project’s objectives. These can include
 +
determining the total geographic area that will be
 +
covered by the project—such as “the state of
 +
Colorado”—and then determining the details that
 +
will be recorded for each cemetery. If a directory
 +
of burials has already been published, then
 +
volunteers can use this as a method of locating
 +
previously identified tombstones and cemeteries.
 +
In addition to verifying—and possibly
 +
correcting—these previously transcribed stones,
 +
volunteers can add newer burials and include GPS
 +
information on every tombstone that is canvassed.
 +
The area to be covered can be as small as a single
 +
county or as large as an entire state—though any
 +
project should not be so large as to cause
 +
volunteers to fear that completion is an
 +
impossible task. Particular interests of the
 +
sponsoring group also will help determine the
 +
area to be surveyed. Volunteers will need to gain
 +
experience in using the GPS receivers and in
 +
collating the GPS data. This is best done on a
 +
smaller scale—perhaps having any new
 +
volunteers canvas a well-known cemetery in the
 +
local area.
 +
 
 +
Information collected for each cemetery should
 +
include:  
 +
<ul>
 +
<li>The name of the cemetery, plus any alternate
 +
names.
 +
<li>The name of the owner of the cemetery.
 +
<li>The name of the sexton or managing
 +
organization, or indications that there is no one
 +
maintaining the cemetery.
 +
<li>The address of the cemetery and directions on
 +
how to get there.
 +
<li>Notes on the cemetery size, especially if there
 +
are only a few burials.
 +
<li>The status of the cemetery: active, inactive, or
 +
abandoned.
 +
<li>The latitude and longitude in degrees, minutes,
 +
and seconds at the center of the cemetery. (See
 +
below for more information about the GNIS
 +
database.)
 +
<li>Note any published materials available about
 +
the cemetery.
 +
<li>Record the legal description: section, township,
 +
range, and principal meridian, as determined
 +
from the applicable USGS topographic map.  
 +
</ul>
 +
 
 +
A nice touch is to include a photograph of each
 +
cemetery entrance to aid in its identification for
 +
future researchers. Another useful effort is to
 +
record the headstone inscriptions in small
 +
cemeteries. This is especially valuable in the case
 +
of abandoned, difficult-to-access burial sites, but
 +
recording tombstone inscriptions may not be the
 +
primary objective of the project, especially if
 +
transcriptions have been recently accomplished.
 +
 +
A single 8½ by 11 inch form, designed by the
 +
project coordinator and the committee, should be
 +
provided to the volunteers who will visit the
 +
cemeteries. After visiting the cemetery and
 +
recording the required information, the volunteers
 +
will then return the completed forms to the
 +
coordinator, who will maintain a master list of
 +
completed cemeteries. It’s important to keep the
 +
list of complete cemeteries updated in order to
 +
avoid duplication in cemetery visits.
 +
 
 +
The volunteers doing the legwork are the heart of
 +
the project. The number of volunteers required
 +
depends upon the size of the area to be covered.
 +
Some volunteers will stay the course, but others
 +
will become inactive after visiting the first few cemeteries. Some difficulties that may arise
 +
include: the amount of time required (it can easily
 +
take all day to drive a route of cemeteries); the
 +
need to knock on the doors of private owners to
 +
receive permission to visit the cemeteries on their
 +
properties; the cost of gas and lodging for
 +
extended trips; and the cost of acquiring GPS
 +
instruments. To mitigate the personal expense of
 +
buying GPS equipment, the sponsoring society
 +
could purchase at low cost a number of GPS
 +
receivers to loan to the volunteers.
 +
 
 +
When beginning a project such as this, a primary
 +
resource is a published list of cemeteries available
 +
for the area; most likely, the local genealogical or
 +
historical society has already prepared such a list.
 +
Even if they exist, these lists are not always
 +
current or accurate, but they make an excellent
 +
starting point. Genealogy and history buffs are
 +
good at this kind of research and compilation
 +
effort, and volunteers will be comfortable
 +
referring to such a list.
 +
 
 +
Typically, after an effort of many months and, in
 +
some instances, years, many more burial sites will
 +
be discovered and recorded, as volunteers who are
 +
enthusiastic and committed carry the project
 +
forward with eagerness and keen interest. The
 +
result of the project would be a new, updated list
 +
of cemeteries, which could be produced as either
 +
a printed document and/or published on the
 +
society’s website.
 +
 
 +
A final donation of the cemetery data should be
 +
the submission of the cemeteries’ GPS
 +
coordinates on the U.S. Geological Survey
 +
(USGS) website, where a Geographic Names
 +
Information System (GNIS) database is
 +
maintained. The GNIS is the federal standard for
 +
the geographic naming of domestic geographic
 +
features, including cemeteries. The database
 +
includes the federally recognized name of each
 +
feature (such as Myrtle Hill Cemetery), the state
 +
and county location, the name of the USGS
 +
topographic map that includes the feature, and the
 +
geographic coordinates (latitude and longitude as
 +
determined by a GPS device). Other attributes
 +
include the names or spellings other than the
 +
official name, feature designations, and historical
 +
and description information. The GNIS collects
 +
data from federal, state, and local government
 +
agencies as well as authorized contributors. The
 +
data published on the GNIS website is available
 +
to the public.
 +
 
 +
Query the GNIS database at
 +
<http://geonames.usgs.gov>, and query the
 +
cemetery in question. This query exercise has two
 +
purposes: if the cemetery in question is already
 +
listed, record its geographic coordinates, which a
 +
volunteer might choose to verify if he or she is in
 +
the neighborhood. If the cemetery is not listed on
 +
the GNIS site, then a designated society volunteer
 +
(most likely the project’s coordinator) can
 +
become an authorized GNIS user and contribute
 +
the coordinates that the society’s volunteers have
 +
recorded on their research trips. This would
 +
provide a valuable service to genealogists as well
 +
as add to the government list.
 +
 
 +
Once the project coordinator knows what
 +
cemeteries need to be visited, the volunteers can
 +
start getting data. Even though volunteers are
 +
usually assigned areas based on counties, they
 +
should not be restricted to those boundaries. They
 +
should visit any cemetery on the “to do” list that
 +
minimizes their travel. A quick check with the
 +
coordinator will avoid duplication.
 +
 +
The completed compilations would be an
 +
important contribution to the genealogical
 +
community. Publishing a hardcopy compilation
 +
and donating (or selling) copies of it to libraries and other
 +
genealogical societies would add significant
 +
information to their collections. Internet
 +
opportunities for posting your work include
 +
RootsWeb, the GNIS database, and your society’s
 +
website.
 +
 
 +
The electronic age brings opportunities to ease the
 +
publication and compilation of information on
 +
cemeteries, which are one of our most important
 +
links to the past and indispensable sources of
 +
genealogical information.

Latest revision as of 07:48, 30 August 2013

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